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    Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Greta Lee: How global celebs are turning to emerging Chinese designers

    As fashion PR and marketing costs surge, the celebrity stamp of red carpet approval can offer emerging Chinese designers a business lifeline
    xx Photo: Yahoo

    In today’s fashion battlefield, is there a better advertisement for emerging Chinese designers than the stamp of celebrity approval?

    Just ask Jingwei Yin, founder of Shanghai-based label Oude Waag. At last month’s Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala, the jamboree preceding the annual Grammy awards and the biggest party in the music world, American rapper Megan Thee Stallion rolled up in a copper chiffon cut-out gown from the brand’s SS24 collection, styled by celebrity stylist Zerina Akers.

    “Working with Megan Thee Stallion and Zerina Akers was a new experience for me as a Chinese designer,” Yin tells Jing Daily. The Chengdu-born creative, who launched Oude Waag in 2017 after graduating from London’s Royal College of Art and working for Haider Ackermann and Hussein Chalayan, says that receiving endorsement from an A-lister has allowed him to see his designs in “a more diverse way,” and receive “more visibility from a new community.”

    This is the case for many rising creatives hailing from China right now. While a fashion month show can help elevate a designer’s profile among style aesthetes, the awards season red carpet remains the “El Dorado” of publicity.

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    A-list endorsement#

    As magazine editorials lose their sheen, tapping the latest “it” girl or heartthrob on the red carpet can significantly help an independent designer crack the pop culture zeitgeist, taking them from fringe to mainstream.

    For 23-year-old designer Zane Li, founder of fledgling brand Lii, American actress and high-fashion muse Greta Lee was his golden ticket into the world of celebrity dressing.

    After graduating from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology last year, Li launched the label’s first collection last month from his small studio in Chinatown. Just two weeks later, on the heels of her Golden Globes Best Actress win, Lee – dressed by cool girl stylist Danielle Goldberg – was snapped wearing a white origami-style two piece from the brand’s FW24 collection at the Independent Spirit Awards.

    This is the case for many rising creatives hailing from China right now. While a fashion month show can help elevate a designer’s profile among style aesthetes, the awards season red carpet remains the “El Dorado” of publicity.

    “[Danielle Goldberg] saw the collection on Instagram and the request for the look came as a complete surprise,” designer Li tells Jing Daily. “We had only just launched the brand and showed the collection two weeks prior, so we weren’t expecting any celebrity requests, nevermind such a big and important one.”

    Lii has fewer than 800 followers on Instagram, and remains largely unknown to those not entrenched in the fashion realm. Lee’s backing is helping put the brand firmly on the radar.

    “We’ve had such a generous response to Greta wearing the look – appearing on a few best-dressed lists, gaining followers and receiving more requests. It’s been very humbling,” says Li.

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    Playing with personalization#

    The pivot towards China’s new wave of creative energy arrives at a time when celebrities are keen to stretch the boundaries of their personal style. Paris and Shanghai-based label Didu, for instance, has become a fixture in music star Doja Cat’s closet, with its provocative and sensual clubwear resonating with the pop disruptor’s freewheeling approach to dressing.

    “The shift towards more celebrities and stylists championing emerging talent is a positive development for the fashion industry,” namesake designer Di Du tells Jing Daily.

    Di Du’s creations are a favorite among celebrities turning to small labels to express their style. During the designer’s graduate year in 2019, megastar Ariana Grande wore a powder blue puffer jacket from the brand for her “Thank U, Next” perfume campaign.

    “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” Di Du says. “It significantly boosted our following and exposure and generated attention and interest in our brand, which attracted buyers and stores.” The campaign video, aired on YouTube, has received 16 million views.

    Couture breakout star Robert Wun is also gaining traction amongst the stars. For the 2024 BAFTA Awards, actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph accepted the Best Supporting Actress accolade for her role in The Holdovers in a custom drape silk piece from the Hong-Kong born designer. The collaboration marked Wun's debut on the BAFTA carpet.

    Actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph wearing custom Robert Wun to the BAFTA Awards. Photo: Yahoo News
    Actress Da'Vine Joy Randolph wearing custom Robert Wun to the BAFTA Awards. Photo: Yahoo News

    Asia’s rising red carpet stars#

    It isn’t just China’s craftspeople who are finding themselves thrust into the pop culture milieu. Over the past 12 months, Vietnamese designer Do Long’s pieces have arrived in droves on the red carpet; a phenomenon that has sent demand for his work skyrocketing.

    For this year’s Grammy awards, the brand designed a custom version of its rhinestone trompe l’oeil dress for American singer SZA, a collaboration that bumped up the label’s desirability among consumers and celebrities across the West.

    Fellow Vietnamese artisan Nguyen Cong Tri, founder of label Cong Tri, is also leaving his mark on the world of celebrity fashion in 2024. This year alone, the brand has found particular success among the film industry’s strong female antiheroines. Tri’s designs have been worn to events by Ali Wong, star of Netflix smash hit Beef, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Chastain, and Succession tritagonist Sarah Snook.

    “It’s about building up your own community which shares and celebrates the brand’s aesthetic and values. Sometimes, these events do offer a chance to let creators go beyond daily wear and express more pure vision on the carpet,” says Yin.

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    VIPs (Very Important Partnerships)#

    Entering a notoriously gatekept industry is no easy feat. For many up-and-coming designers, their breakout onto the world stage relies heavily on the holy trinity of right place, right time, and the right person.

    But it takes an army to bring these partnerships to fruition. Stylists and PR firms are often the missing link between an emerging designer and a high-profile endorser.

    “In a world with plenty of fashion, I feel a strong responsibility to bring something unique to the table,” says David Siwicki, founder of public relations consultant David Siwicki Communication, the company behind Oude Waag and Megan Thee Stallion’s tie-up. Other clients include Western independent labels Isa Boulder and Justine Clenquet.

    Firms like Siwicki’s play a significant role in connecting rising designers to stars who can give them a leg up. The right VIP can change a designer’s career trajectory overnight, Siwicki says.

    “I try to identify and work with talents who still have something new to say on the world stage – so our work with VIP placements helps contextualize who their muse is and what they stand for,” he says. “A well chosen VIP can portray the brand's values and aesthetic to a huge audience.”

    As for stylists, their discoverability power can help propel emerging designers into the cultural spotlight; as seen with stylist Law Roach dressing Zendaya in a custom piece from London-based label Torishéju for the Dune Part Two press run.

    Cardi B wearing custom Chen Peng at the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Yahoo
    Cardi B wearing custom Chen Peng at the 2023 Met Gala. Photo: Yahoo

    “I really love supporting emerging designers whenever I can,” says UK-based stylist Lyla Cheng. “It's such a thrill for me when I discover a cool designer or interesting pieces.”

    Cheng points to rapper Cardi B’s 2023 Met Gala look, a diamond-quilted custom gown created by Chinese designer Chen Peng, as a rising designer success story.

    “I've seen [Chen Peng's] designs before, but when I saw Cardi B wearing them, I knew it was going to be a big moment for the brand,” Cheng says. “Chen Peng is also showing in Paris on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar again this season, which really demonstrates how powerful the red carpet moment can be.”

    Key Takeaways:#

    • Renowned global celebrities, from Megan Thee Stallion to Doja Cat, are increasingly favoring emerging Chinese designers for their red carpet appearances and public engagements.
    • Awards seasons have become a powerful platform for emerging Chinese designers like Oude Waag, Zane Li, and Didu, as they gain significant visibility and recognition.
    • The spotlight on rising Asian designers during global events underscores the growing influence of Asian fashion on the world stage.
    • The partnership between global celebrities and Chinese designers can encourage audiences to explore and appreciate the creative contributions from across the globe.
    • As costs surge across fashion, having the endorsement of an A-lister can propel emerging brands into the cultural spotlight, leveraging their chance of success in the industry.
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